Saskatchewan voters have questions, the Government House Leader needs to give answers

Folks, I’m going to tell you something you all already know: not all criticism is created equal.

When First Name Bunch-of-Numbers jumps on social media from the safety of an anonymous account and calls me an idiot, I don’t particularly care. I’m not really concerned if random people use an alias to anonymously call me a dork, but that changes the second someone actually puts their name to their words.

More importantly, it really changes if someone in a position of authority—say the Speaker of the Legislature—does it from a place of prominence—for example, the floor of the Saskatchewan Legislature.

It changes even more if the criticism is, shall we say, concerning. Being called a dork is one thing. Being accused of sending harassing text messages in an attempt to influence a neutral party is quite another.

Politicians get a lot of criticism, some of it warranted and some of it not. I don’t expect them to respond to every little thing. Some, like our current Prime Minister, would never have time to do their job if they had to respond to every reproach (fair or otherwise) that came their way. But I do expect politicians to respond to specific accusations made in unusual ways, which brings us to Saskatchewan Party Government House Leader Jeremy Harrison.

For those of you who missed it, Harrison was on the receiving end of a broadside from outgoing Legislative Speaker and fellow Sask. Party MLA Randy Weekes, who accused the Meadow Lake MLA of “harassing me with text messages” and, even more concerning, having “a disturbing obsession with guns” to the point where Harrison allegedly brought a hunting rifle to the Legislature.

Premier Scott Moe, to his credit, faced the media and answered questions about Weekes’ allegations (Moe views them as “nothing more than third-party hearsay”, Regina Leader-Post journalist Alec Salloum reported.) So have other MLAs, like Prince Albert’s Alana Ross, who told the Daily Herald she has “never worked in a better work environment.”

Whether you believe Moe or Ross is, to be blunt, not the point of this column. Obviously, it’s important, but the main thrust is at least they spoke to the media. Why hasn’t Jeremy Harrison done the same?

You may not like what Ross said, but at least she took our calls and answered questions about Weekes’ allegations. Same goes for the Premier. Harrison, meanwhile, has gone AWOL.

As the Leader-Post’s Murray Mandryk noted in his own column a few days ago, Harrison has been difficult to reach. He didn’t speak to reporters on May 16, didn’t show up to the Premier’s dinner later that day, and wasn’t at a scheduled announcement on May 17.

On Thursday, after the provincial NDP called for an investigation into the allegations about Harrison’s enthusiasm for firearms, the Leader-Post tried to arrange an interview with Harrison. Their request was declined.

Harrison’s X (formerly known as Twitter) account shows only one instance of activity since Weekes’ allegations. On May 21, Harrison liked one of Moe’s posts. The subject was inflation, not text messages or hunting rifles.

Whether true or not, Harrison should step up to the plate, and take a nice healthy swing at the first question a reporter lobs his way. If Weekes is telling the truth, Harrison owes it to Saskatchewan voters, and members of his own party, to come clean and fess up. If they are lies, Harrison should vigorously defend himself?

What he shouldn’t do is sit in silence and wait for this to boil over. Yes, I know some voters have short attention spans. Yes, I know every public relations expert on the face of the earth would advise you to shut-up and let other people do the talking. That is the political equivalent of kicking a fieldgoal on third-and-goal from the one yard line.

This isn’t just about Harrison’s reputation, or his party’s reputation. As others have pointed out, it’s unprecedented to see an outgoing Speaker lay into someone the way Weekes did. Saskatchewan residents have had their faith in the political process shaken. Harrison needs to step up to the mic and address the allegations to restore a little of that faith.

Typically, when someone mouths off in the Legislature or the House of Commons, those on the receiving end tell their accusers to repeat those allegations outside the chamber. Weekes already did that when he sat down for an interview with the Leader-Post. The onus is on Harrison and the Saskatchewan Party now to defend their reputations, and the political process.

If Weekes is wrong, Harrison should come out swinging and defend himself. If Weekes is right, Harrison owes voters an explanation. Staying silent until the news cycle moves on is the cynical way out.

Jason Kerr is the editor of the Prince Albert Daily Herald.